While I was thinking about this last night I had imagined that one of the questions in the list was, ‘What is your purpose in blogging?’. That question isn’t actually on the list. I probably confused myself because I have been observing Jim Belshaw go through the process of reviewing what he is seeking to achieve through blogging.
Jim takes blogging a lot more seriously than I do, but it would not do any harm for me to review my purpose in blogging. When people have asked me this question in the past my answer has been that I am interested in issues related to liberty and happiness. I read a lot of material related to those issues; I write about the things I read because that helps to focus my mind; and I publish what I write on my blog because my views might be of interest to some other people. After I explained this to a friend he said something to the effect that I must have to have a fairly big ego to think that other people might be interested in my views. I agreed.
However, I don’t think the purpose of my blogging has a great deal to do with my ego. While I am interested to see how many people are visiting my blog and what they are reading, I do my best not to unduly influenced. I would get some satisfaction from having a more popular blog, but I keep telling myself that the main purpose of the blog is to help me to straighten out my own ideas.
I know a good interviewer would not be satisfied with the answers I have given so far. She would probably ask: So, why are you concerned about issues related to liberty and happiness?
My concern arises because I think our liberty is increasingly under threat from people who want us to be happy.
Around 250 years ago, Adam Smith wrote:
‘Every man is, no doubt, by nature, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and right that it should be so’ (‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’, p 82).
At the time Smith wrote that, the idea that everyone is fitter to take care of himself or herself than any other person was becoming widely accepted. Such thinking was influential in the recognition of ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a right of individual citizens in the drafting of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Doubts were expressed by some people even at that time about how successful individuals might actually be in pursuing their own happiness, but few would have suggested that it might be ‘fit and right’ that governments should assume responsibility for caring for us all.
Over the period since then, happiness has become a government objective. Our political leaders may not use those specific words -they are more inclined to state their objectives in terms of well-being and welfare rather than happiness - but the meaning is the same. In addition to concerns about health, education, care for the elderly etc, governments are increasingly being urged to take account of the findings of happiness research and behavioural economics to develop policies that will make people happier.
Does this mean that we are heading toward some kind of brave new world where individual freedom will be totally sacrificed in the interests of making people feel happier? I’m not sure. When people debate public policy issues it is natural to consider how the well-being of particular groups and the broader community might be affected. The problem is that in attempting to solve immediate problems for particular groups I think we have tended to overlook the longer term implications of reducing the responsibility of individuals to care for themselves. It is worth thinking long and hard about the implications of growth of government for the personal development of individuals as well as for norms of behaviour that are fundamental to peace and prosperity.
So, why don’t you write a book about this?
That is a good question. As my thoughts become clearer, the idea of writing a book about the links between liberty and individual flourishing becomes more appealing.